10 February 2010

Adapting to Angers

WOW. Where to start?

I suppose I could talk about the rest of the week, the stress I encountered and the chaos that ensued. But I won't. Instead I'll begin with my first productive day at school.

The following Monday, we all received our results from the placement test, and were instructed to get our level and go to the room listed for it. I start looking through the lists, seeing numbers ranging from 100 - 400 and I finally find my name. Instead of a number, however, I see a big "SUP" written. First thoughts? "Oh great, I'm stupid. What does this mean. I'm confused. Do I need to take supplementary courses because I'm so Godawful in French that I completely failed the test?" Thank goodness that I had two friends placed in the same niveau as me - all confused, we consulted others and sorted that mess out.

Turns out, SUP stands for supérieur. BOOYAH, kids. Just kidding - in all honesty, I felt awkward stating my achieved level, and thought back to simpler times where people were divided into color groups, or numbered off 1-10. Even so, I was relieved and excited upon hearing this news, until we were all told to file into the Auditorium; yet another test. It wasn't as bad as I had anticipated, consisting only of a small amount of reading comprehension and an essay of no more than 200 [or was it 300..?] words. While I was proud of my placement, I felt behind the curve because while all others were getting adjusted and going to class, none of us knew what exactly we were getting ourselves into.

That day, all students in the superior level attended the same classes and got a general idea of courses that would be offered to us. I was still slightly brain dead after my fantastic weekend in Paris, but was anxious to start being a student in France, so I paid attention.

Which reminds me: weekend. Paris. Me. Aubrey. Merry. Guillaume. Negocia. BOMB. I could save you from the story, but it's all too marvelous to leave out. So think of this as a flashback from the flashback above.

Thursday rolls around, all of us CIDEF students are bored, tired and ready for our first weekend in Angers. I felt a little bit out of the loop because all I wanted to do was go back and see my friends in Paris and Asnières. I hadn't been ready to leave in the beginning, so one week apart was pulling on my heart-strings like I used to do to Stretch Armstrong when I was younger. I even missed Eno, Merry's obnoxious dog that was almost as spastic as he is.

I heard Aubrey and Amy talking about their weekend plans, and nothing caught my attention until there was mention of Paris. "We don't have any other three day weekends until Spring Break, so I feel like we should go to Paris, since we'll have the rest of the semester to explore Angers..." BOOM. Attention snagged, I whipped around and expressed my enormous interest in her idea.

Thursday night served as my first night out in Angers, as I accompanied other CIDEFians to the bars in Centre Ville. We had a few drinks and made ourselves at ease in a town we would call home for the months to follow. As it started to rain, Amy and I took on the daunting task of riding our bikes home. She turned off toward her house, and I got turned around. The night, black and pouring rain, mixed with my slight inebriation was no less than frustrating, as I struggled for ten minutes before finally finding my way home. Crawling into my warm bed, my growing anticipation for the weekend made it hard to fall asleep, but I finally accomplished the task, my busy brain finally at peace.

And so the tickets were bought [after the 12 25 pass, of course], arrangements were made, and we were on our way to Paris, the next morning. Our first train was easy enough to find, and a hassle to board. As it was to arrive in Le Mans, where we would switch trains, no one had assigned seats and chaos ensued. First, there was a rush to board bikes on their proper shelves, then one woman's disregard for anyone else. She stood in the middle of a very narrow isle, creating a two-way traffic jam - all for a piece of paper in her enormous piece of luggage. People merely stared as she shuffled through clothes, food and various other items, until one man kindly proposed she move and let everyone else through. She was, naturally, rude to him, but after receiving many death stares from the audience around her, she grunted, swearing, and gave a little room so we could make our way into the next car of the train.

We made our train connection after encountering a mass of people, all a blur, moving robotically toward the sortie signs. It was extremely more comfortable, having specific seats. I dozed off, calmed by the consistent thrumming of the train on its tracks and counted the minutes until our arrival at the station in Montparnasse, where Merry was waiting for us.

On the platform at last, my phone vibrates with a message reading "where art thou?" Silly boy, that Little Ree-ble. We were surprised with an extra guest, come to welcome us to Paris - Guillaume was there as well. Introductions were given, awkward silences followed, and we made our way to the metro to accompany the boys to work. After an interesting "let's get to know Corrie's friends in the metro" session along with massive amounts of sassing and boude-ing, Aubrey and I bid goodbye to the boys and headed back to the metro, on our way to Asnières.

Let's set a few things straight. I know the rules of the metro; after spending a summer in Paris, there's no way I could ignore them. That being said, I was sure to avoid eye-contact, I didn't smile at strangers, and I attempted to get Aubrey to sit by me so I could explain a few things. Because of the bustle to get on the train, however, I couldn't get through to her that she should not sit by herself, across from me. Luckily, everything went smoothly for the first few stops, until a strangely creepy man boarded. I saw his eyes go to her, a smiling girl, seemingly alone and pretty obviously foreign. Her pale, freckled skin and brightly colored duffel bag stuck out like a sore thumb, and he spotted it, and immediately leapt for the chance to make some ground work. At first it was just small talk, talking about weather, etc. Then it progressed to where she was from, what she was studying, more personal information. Finally, he asked her out for a drink. She politely declined, making eyes at me, searching and pleading for help. I made up an excuse, we declined again, and continued to have a conversation with our facial expressions. I was fairly sarcastic about it, as I'd been through the same thing multiple times and had gotten used to the awkwardness of such a situation. Seeing someone else go through it was, I have to admit, slightly amusing, and I basked in my little guilty pleasure.

Finally, after one line change, we were at the train station in St. Lazare, headed toward Bécon les Bruyères, the stop closest to Merry's house.

::short interjection::

I think I forgot to tell you - Merry's parents still rock. They joked about how I was already coming back after a week, but were wonderful and accepted Aubrey and I into their homes once more.

We made our way through the streets I had grown to love, and through the blue gate I adored. We arranged our affairs, got settled in, and set off to Chez l'Arab, a little grocery store nearby, to buy necessities for the night. After being confronted with a small selection of wonderful snacks and tempting wines, we returned to the house, ready to "faire la fête," as they say; two bottles of wine, cookies, chips, bread and cheese, we decided to get started while we patiently waited for our return. We bonded over a bottle of wine and a photo shoot, and were surprised at a polite little knock on the door. Giggling, we once again welcomed Guillaume, Merry, and this time Florian as well, into our little house in the garden. Their first reaction? Giggles. I guess it was easy to tell we were feeling good - purple lips and teeth, squinty eyes, and an empty wine bottle accompanied by our use of French. [that last clue is a dead give-away for me, and anyone who knows me is fully aware of it.]

The five of us headed out to a party thrown by Negocia, a business school in Paris. After twenty minutes of wandering around aimlessly, we found the place, boarded the boat, and danced, danced, danced. We got free drinks and our bodies moved to the terrible American music that Aubrey and I were so accustomed to, amused by all of the French around us who swayed, entranced by the lyrics that their lips mouthed [sort of] and their brains didn't understand. [I don't say that in a bad way at all and I mean no offense by it - I merely recognize the fact that I have French friends, and the majority of them do not understand a single word of what they are repeating, nor do they know what the actual lyrics actually are.]

Four hours and two taxis later, Aubrey and I snuggled into the same bed and went to sleep. The next night wasn't as eventful, but enjoyable nonetheless, and suddenly our weekend in Paris came to an end. Sunday afternoon, we were back in Angers, ready to tackle school on Monday. Which brings us back to my first week of school.

Tuesday, class. Nothing worth mentioning until the afternoon - quite possibly a memory that will be one of my favorites for years to come. I get home around 14h30, and am instantly bored out of my mind. After two days off, my French dad Philippe was in the same boat. He sat on his computer, playing Solitaire over and over, getting more frustrated as he continued to lose. I showed him a few tricks, and he had a brilliant idea; go-carting. At first, I had NO IDEA what he was talking about, but then he explained it, and we were on our way. It was snowing, a refreshing sight after gray skies and nothing but rain and arctic winds rushing past, but we continued anyway. At the racetrack, I was shocked to find the experience completely different from the ones I've had in America. We got into gear - jumpsuits, gloves, a little hairnet and helmet, and strapped ourselves into the little car, its motor humming with anticipation that matched my own. Needless to say, Philippe smoked me. Lapped me twice, and we laughed the entire way back.

En rentrant, a hot cup of coffee to defrost my hands and organs, and mental preparation for the night to follow; a soccer game, Angers vs. Metz [I'm just writing what my ticket says. I have no idea who the other team was, but they were wearing pastel pink uniforms, so it's almost better this way]. Even though we lost the game and all [me, Philippe and his 14 year old son, Luis] returned, runny noses and frozen limbs, it was such an amazing day, and I now realize how lucky I got with the family I'm in right now.

Wednesday, more class. This week is about experiencing and experimenting, finding out the courses that suit my needs and attend to my needs [I know that sounds slightly creepy, give me a break it's been a long day]. I'm currently giving myself a speech, readying myself for the long day ahead of me tomorrow - 9h00 until 19h00. I doubt there is any need to tell anyone how much I'm dreading such a tiresome day in school, so I'll leave you with the details, and spare you the whine. After all, I've had enough of that so far anyway. I mean, I am in France. [whine...wine...you get it.]

Until next time.

-Ann Radcliffe

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